HARTFORD, Conn. - Members of Big East Conference took a deep breath yesterday, turned an ear toward Blacksburg, Va., and waited for the next bizarre twist in the expansion soap opera being produced by the Atlantic Coast Conference.
But the predominant sound from Virginia Tech was silence, as the Hokies pondered the opportunity to be included in the ACC's expansion plan that had already targeted Miami, Boston College and Syracuse.
The nine ACC presidents decided Wednesday to reconsider Virginia Tech for membership, supposedly opening the door to a 13-team super-conference that would inflict total devastation on the Big East.
The only word from Virginia Tech came in a statement that said: "Virginia Tech has not been extended an offer, either formally or informally, to join the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"We do not know if one is forthcoming. We are not in a position to comment on news reports. We have heard of many what-if scenarios, but we can't comment on rumors, innuendoes, and intimations. The expansion plans are the work of the ACC and we have to wait and see what the ACC wants to do."
Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner has been urging other state officials to do whatever they could to protect Virginia Tech's interests. But the development this late in the stage of the ACC's plan caught everyone by surprise. One source said members of the athletic department had no idea Virginia Tech would be approached by the ACC.
Another theory receiving strong consideration is that this is a ploy by the ACC to get the seven presidential votes necessary to vote on extending membership invitations to the Big East schools. Virginia president John T. Casteen III, reportedly holding the sway vote, suggested approaching Virginia Tech. It may have been a way for him to relieve the pressure he has been under to vote against any expansion plan that didn't include Virginia Tech.
"It's not exactly clear who has the ball right now," said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who is accelerating his lawsuit against Miami, BC and the ACC.
One scenario attracting attention around Connecticut was a report that the ACC might not be finished at 13 teams and that Connecticut could be next.
University and state officials dismissed the notion of UConn joining the ACC.
"We haven't been approached by anyone," UConn president Philip E. Austin said.
Blumenthal said Virginia Tech remains a plaintiff in the lawsuit, along with UConn, Pittsburgh, West Virginia and Rutgers.
"I'd be surprised and saddened if Virginia Tech is seriously considering this overture," Blumenthal said. "Nothing would surprise me from the ACC because it has no shame and clearly is desperate. But Virginia Tech has been a very steadfast ally."
For the second day, Blumenthal emphasized that the developments involving Virginia Tech will not weaken the lawsuit.
"In a way, this overture to Virginia Tech strengthens our case," he said. "It underscores the core point of our case, that the ACC will stop at nothing to destroy the Big East."
Ken Davis is a reporter for the Hartford Courant, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.